40 Arrested, Scores Beaten, Dozens of Homes Invaded in Beit Ommar

13 March 2009

soldier-flipping-off-smallIn the early hours on Wednesday, March 11, approximately 15 Israeli military vehicles entered the village of Beit Ommar and began a day-long operation of harassment, violence, and destruction. Scores of soldiers, many with faces painted or ski masks on, began breaking into homes at approximately 1am, tearing rooms apart, breaking furniture, computers, and other electronics, and arresting men aged 11-80. mohammed-house-smallBy 4 am, 22 people had been arrested, including Mohammed Awwad, PSP committee member and freelance journalist. His home suffered severe damage, with all of the cabinets torn from the walls, bedding cut open and cameras broken.
Another family, living in a one-room home and who had a son killed last year by the Israeli military, had their home broken into in the early morning, the glass windows on their cabinet broken, and their son taken away.

By 8am the arrest count had risen to 27, and at least 4 homes had been occupied for several hours. The Israeli military had also released photographs of the blindfolded arrested boys and men to the media, bragging about the scope of the operation. Of the homes chosen, some were clearly marked on a map the soldiers were carrying, others seemed totally random. In several cases, soldiers would enter a home, tear it apart, saying they were looking for weapons, or, in at least one case “military clothes” and after 30 minutes to an hour, would leave. In one such home a soldier urinated on the floor, and one commander was seen eating food out of the household freezer (after allegedly searching it for guns).

An international with Palestine Solidarity Project managed to enter several homes while the Israeli soldiers were still occupying them, and captured numerous violations on videotape, including the urine on the floor of a home, and a commander telling her that they were looking for forbidden military clothing.

Just before 12pm, an officer from the Israeli intelligence came to the home of the mayor of Beit Ommar, (whose home had already been invaded 2 days previously by the Israeli army) and told him that while he was not being arrested, he was being asked to go with him to the local police station. While held there, he was told the ongoing operation in Beit Ommar was in response to local kids throwing stones and military vehicles. When the mayor pointed out that this only happened when Israeli military vehicles entered the village, and that the simple way to prevent it would be for the Israeli military to stay out of the village, the officer had no reply, but returned the mayor to Beit Ommar 4 hours later.

urine-smallDuring another home invasion, soldiers seemed to choose a house for its decor. While they did not search the home or destroy any property, they forced the family outside while they sat on the porch swing and sang the Israeli national anthem, followed by a stream of insults at a female international activist with PSP, and threats to sexually assault her.

At various times during the day the Israeli military announced a curfew, forbidding residents from leaving their homes, though it was enforced sporadically, mostly in areas around homes that were being invaded. As night fell again, soldiers entered the home of yet another community leader and announced they were there to arrest his son. His son, Y, aged 17, has been arrested twice before and has been shot by the Israeli military with live ammunition twice, once relatively recently, which has led to health problems. Though his mother pleaded with the soldiers to not arrest him, nearly a dozen soldiers entered the home, one with a german shepherd, and grabbed Y by the neck. They then put him in plastic handcuffs and began punching him in the stomach and legs. When the PSP international present tried to intervene in the severe beating, she was grabbed by the neck, forced to the ground, and also handcuffed, though she informed the soldiers that she was both an American and Israeli citizen and they had no authority to cuff her. Soldiers then left her, taking the young man outside and continuing to beat him and the other people in the home. When the international activist followed them outside, an Israeli soldier held his gun to her forehead, pushing her backward into the wall, telling her he would shoot her. Soldiers continued to beat the boy as more elderly family members came out of neighboring homes to protest his treatment. Two soldiers then grabbed the PSP activist by the throat and held her face up on the hood of the car while they savagely grabbed the young Palestinian by his cheek and dragged him to a wall where they forced his head against a fence. When the international got free and again got between the soldiers and the boy, the soldiers gave up, releasing a grenade of tear gas and leaving the area and the boy, still handcuffed, behind.

By midnight it was over, with the soldiers leaving a trail of destruction behind. Some residents had been handed letters written in arabic telling them that the operation was intended to stop stone-throwing in the village, and that if a single stone was thrown, they would arrest everyone, young and old.